In a year of in which the Florida Legislature faced uncertain revenue projections, a controversial toll-road project was an easy sacrifice to the proverbial chopping block. This week, the Legislature sent a bill that does away with much of a controversial toll-road plan, called the Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (M-CORES) to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law.
Approved by the Florida legislature in 2019 with the enthusiastic support of Governor Ron DeSantis, M-CORES called for building a toll road from Collier County to Polk County, extending Florida’s Turnpike to connect with the Suncoast Parkway, and extending the Suncoast Parkway toll road from Citrus County to Jefferson County.
Plans to build these tolls roads through rural areas in the middle and northern part of the state drew public outcry from community leaders who said the roads were not needed or wanted and would cause environmental harm.
While the bill does not completely terminate the project, it does scale it back significantly.
Senate Bill (SB) 100’s sponsor Senate Transportation Chairwoman Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart) told the Senate, “The pandemic has really required that we reevaluate things and one of the things that I really believe that is both a policy and a budget issue is M-CORES.”
SB 100 eliminates the Southwest Florida connector between Collier and Polk counties.
The Florida Department of Transportation plans for the extension of the turnpike west from Wildwood to the Suncoast Parkway remain.
Plans for the Suncoast Parkway north were modified and will now utilize the existing route of U.S. 19 and ultimately connecting to Interstate 10 in Madison County, instead of Jefferson County. The bill also includes non-tolled alternatives for local traffic along U.S. 19 and would allow property owners impacted by the roads at least one access point for each mile of land owned.
The bill returns $35 million tapped for those projects back to Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise fund to be used for specific purposes and recurring for the next 30 years.
The Senate approved the measure in March and the House passed it unanimously Tuesday. Senator Janet Cruz (D-District 18) was the only lawmaker in either chamber to vote against it.
The repeal of M-CORES was called for by Florida TaxWatch, several environmental groups and local county representatives.
Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic M. Calabro called the M-CORES project an “unnecessary gamble that could cost Florida and its taxpayers dearly.”
“Florida TaxWatch has raised substantive concerns about the M-CORES project, which revealed a serious lack of planning, analysis, or proper vetting used in the development and 2019 approval of this massive expansion of Florida’s Turnpike System,” said Calabro. “Our 2020 report found this project was a highly expensive gamble that could have cost Florida and its taxpayers billions of dollars. Thank you to the Florida Legislature for reconsidering and repealing this measure and we look forward to Gov. DeSantis’ signature on SB 100.”
The Florida Transportation Builders’ Association also supported the M-CORES repeal.
“Prioritizing infrastructure investments, as the Legislature has done with the passage of this important bill, is vital to the future success of Florida,” said the Florida Transportation Builders’ Association President Ananth Prasad. “As Florida’s population continues to grow, there will be an increasing number of vehicles traveling on our roads and we will need both new and improved roadways throughout our state to accommodate them. This legislation is a sensible approach to begin addressing this issue. With the passage of SB 100, the Florida Legislature is taking action to responsibly address both short-term and long-term infrastructure needs in our state.”